Big data has grown up: now it’s personal

Data personalisation is the logical next step for responsive design. We've been totally preoccupied with devices for the last three or four years – making experiences that fit the medium our users are interacting with them on. But that's only half the story.

The fact that your site's being viewed on a mobile means you can serve a mobile optimised version, but there's loads of other information we could be incorporating into the experience too. Is your user at home or outside? What did they look at last time they accessed the site through a mobile? How about other users like them? And how do browsing habits change according to day, date, time, weather? All of this information will allow us to provide a genuinely personal experience, responsive to context, whether that's about device, history or even sentiment.

The internet's growing up, and engagement is becoming more and more crucial. There are probably loads of people doing the same thing you do, so you need to make sure the experience you deliver is as personal and relevant as possible. All the data to feed that exists, and probably has for a while, but the necessary cross-browser support and bandwidth to deliver those kinds of sites have only become available relatively recently.

Exactly what data personalisation means for a business depends on the business. The most obvious, and immediately beneficial, applications relate to e-commerce e.g. much more useful and relevant product recommendations, an understanding of purchasing cycles at an individual level and the ability to maximise aspects of a product you know a customer will relate to. But there's potential in this for everyone. Just the awareness and engagement uplift you'd get from a brilliant, personal brand experience would soon demonstrate great ROI.

In theory, all these cool applications will make the internet both easier to use and more fun. Your customers will be able to access things they're interested in more quickly and more easily, but also, you'll be able to tell them about stuff they might be interested in much more reliably. Have you ever bought an umbrella on Amazon? Yeah, so have loads of other people. So the 'other people who bought this also bought…' box is a morass of ethically dubious irrelevance and t-shirts with wolves on. Data personalisation will make that a thing of the past.

Inevitably, privacy is the dominant controversy. At some point someone is almost certain to do something with data that upsets their audience, whether that's predicting impending divorces, being unintentionally offensive or just looking a bit like a stalker. It'll probably be sooner rather than later, while people are still figuring out what to do with all this data, and when it happens it could cause a massive backlash against data collection.

At the moment there isn't really any regulation around data collection – PCI compliance is all around how you use that data and who you share it with. So, for now, data driven personalisation on an individual site basis isn't really regulated at all. But that's certain to change in the future in the wake of Snowden, as businesses get more and more sophisticated in how they play stored data back to their customers.

> See also: How businesses are finding the silver lining in personal cloud apps

Personalisation engines in CMSs are getting more and more sophisticated, so that increasingly gives us a way to realise all the interpretation we're doing around data. Beyond that, interconnections between web services and apps will allow a much wider understanding of context – for example, if your site is set up to recognise what the weather's like and what your user is watching on TV while they browse, you'll be able to create much more contextualised and engaging interactions.

Linked data will be the big trend over the next 18 months – warehousing both within organisations and between them in order to create connections between an individual's interactions with brands across touchpoints. Imagine if Tesco knew how often you drank Jägerbombs at home, because they'd linked up with your Facebook, and then they used that knowledge to suggest that you either (a) buy more Jäger every second Friday or (b) just grow up. What a time to be alive.

Sourced from Robb Green, creative director at Rockpool Digital

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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